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Northern elk: Heads & tales

Saturday, September 01, 2012 - Updated: 8:31 PM

Now that the moose have reintroduced themselves in the Adirondacks and have settled in, it might be time to take another look at the Adirondack elk, which, according to some ancient eye-witness reports, roamed the southern Adirondacks around Northville, Caroga and Stratford. The last elk was taken, by mistake, up in Minerva country, Essex County. Some 15 years ago I wrote the story of the Adirondack elk in this column and later (2002). I included a southern Adirondack photograph and a story of the elk in my first Arcadia Image of America book. The article on the elk concluded with, "We will probably never know where the Adirondack elk went, and we will probably never see them back." And nothing has changed.

History tells us that the elk once roamed the North Country in big numbers. They were called "wapiti" by the Native Americans and were often referred to as stags. The famous Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm reported the elk in the Lake George/Lake Champlain region during his mid-1700s trip. By the 1900s, however, the elk were extirpated in the Adirondacks (gone) and reintroduction efforts were under way. Edward Litchfield had brought in a herd of elk in 1893, fenced them in, only to have them escape through broken fence and killed by hunters. William C. Whitney gave the Adirondacks 22 elk in 1901 and 1902 sent 40 from Massachusetts to Long Lake West. Five elk came from Binghamton to Dart's Camp near Big Moose Lake. The Brown's Tract guides took care of them but, much like all the rest, they were victims of careless hunters. A train car load of elk were brought from Montana in 1916 by the New York state Order of Elks, but were soon shot out of existence. Six more were released at DeBar Mountain in 1932 but were soon missing. Reintroduction of the elk was not working. And, maybe, just maybe, it was not such a good idea anyway. The Lake George News reported that, "Elk that have been liberated in the Adirondacks have greatly damaged the oat crop on the James Persons' farm in the Town of Schroon. Six of the animals were seen in the field at one time."

The regional headquarters of the conservation department in Warrensburg had a mounted elk's head on display for many years and it may still be there. It was the last elk shot in the Adirondacks. It was taken in October 1946 near Minerva by a hunter who mistook it for a large deer. It took the game protector, seven men and a horse to drag the huge animal out of the woods. The 9-year-old elk weighed over 500 pounds, dressed. The enormous set of antlers had six points on each antler.

The late Barney Fowler, Albany Times Union outdoor writer, had his elk stories. He once told the story of making the rounds of the outdoor shows for the conservation department, taking his elk along. Fortunately, he had a convertible car at the time because the mounted elk's head had a huge rack. He said it was taken in the Adirondacks in the 1940s and was probably the one that ended up in the Warrensburg headquarters. One night, returning from the sportsmen's show in Montgomery County, he had the "huge elk head along side of us, its lower jaw resting upon the top of the windshield; its antlers spread all over the place." He stopped at a Schenectady restaurant for a midnight snack, whereupon in a short time a guy stumbled in shouting, "There's an elk in somebody's car outside." After the excitement died down, Barney, with his usual sense of Adirondack humor, told the guy, "It's really not an elk, it's our brother; every time he gets crocked, he thinks he's an elk." Let me know if you see an Adirondack elk.

DON WILLIAMS was born and raised

in the Adirondacks. He is a retired

Gloversville school principal and magazine author. He lives in Gloversville.


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